The pontiff will likely get rock star treatment, but what Francis' visit to America really signifies is a radical Pope's journey to the 'heart of the machine.' It's not that the Pope is anti-American, but he is a Latin American that probably has a suspicion of the neighbors to the north. On his Latin American tour he called unfettered capitalism ‘the dung of the devil’.
Anti-capitalist, anti-war and anti-oil activists who question the world order don’t usually get much of a hearing inside the halls of the US Congress, where most lawmakers have little patience for views deemed too far outside the mainstream.
During his first ever trip to the US Pope Francis is expected to call the world’s only superpower to act on issues ranging from global warming and immigration to racial and economic inequality. Francis is expected to shine a light on the people that he believes have been left behind by American capitalism and an economic model that he has said “kills”.
The Vatican knows that the Pope is paying a price in the US for his emphasis on issues like poverty and exploitation - as opposed to traditional “culture war” issues like abortion and contraception. A Gallup poll in July revealed a sharp drop in the Pope’s favorability rating from 76% in February 2014 to 59%.
It will be interesting to see how far the pope will go to drive home what some conservative critics have decried as an uninformed perception of America by a man who does not understand the US or the free market system. History has shown us that Pope Francis is not one to hold his tongue.
So far he has accused senior Vatican officials of narcissism, among other sins, and told the European Parliament that the EU emanated an impression of “weariness and aging”, where great ideas were replaced by “bureaucratic technicalities”. The pontiff is not likely to play down this message all that much when addressing a potentially sensitive American audience.
It has to be noted that the Pope is somewhat enigmatic. Sometimes, he seems to espouse liberal values raising the hopes of progressive Catholics of a changing church, but his staunch adherence to conservative doctrine proves that he is not the radical reformer many liberals were wishing for.
His visit to the US will not likely satisfy the left nor the right entirely. A call for action on global warming and help for the poor will be welcomed by Catholic Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, but he could equally seek to lend an olive branch to Republican Catholics by speaking of his opposition to abortion and his view that the traditional family has been put at risk by the expansion of gay marriage rights in the US and elsewhere.
The Vatican hopes that whatever controversies and surprises might crop up, the Pope’s celebrity status will ultimately smooth over any rough edges. We'll see how it goes.
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